College Completion

There is an important, heightened, and newly focused federal conversation taking place regarding college completion.  Initiatives that make a positive impact on students’ college completion – particularly on-time completion – deserve strong support.

This is a long-time priority of independent colleges, which have the highest graduation and on-time completion rates of any sector.  In cooperation with the Council on Independent Colleges, NAICU launched Building Blocks to 2020 to gather information about existing efforts to improve graduation rates, expand effective programs, make periodic progress reports, and broadly disseminate information about successful programs.  

As efforts to improve college completion rates continue, it will be important to guard against the creation of new credentials that devalue degree requirements. 


College completion has long been a priority of private, nonprofit colleges, which have the highest graduation rates of any sector. NAICU’s Building Blocks to 2020 project, highlighting successful programs at private nonprofit colleges, has drawn praise from federal lawmakers.  

Measuring completion has become more complex as the number of non-traditional students has grown, and new forms of credentialing have emerged. 


Policy Issues

Calculating and Publicizing Completion Rates:  There is growing criticism of the method by which the federal government collects and reports graduation rates. The federal graduation rate includes only first-time, full-time students in the calculation. With a growing number of adult and part-time students pursuing higher education, many are questioning the usefulness of a rate that does not include these students.    

As efforts to find a substitute for the current federal graduation rate continue, institutions can anticipate additional reporting and disclosure requirements designed to capture both the “churning” through two or more institutions, and the experiences of various student subpopulations, including veterans.  The College Scorecard has already placed an increased emphasis on graduation rates by including it as one of the three prominently displayed data points on each institution’s report card.  

Federal Incentives:  In recent years, some federal initiatives to improve graduation rates have either excluded private, nonprofit colleges and universities, or have made state government oversight a centerpiece of the effort.  Private, non-profit institutions are not state entities, and it is inappropriate to condition federal dollars on compliance with state requirements.  The focus of federal support should remain on students. 

In the News


NAICU Washington Updates

What You Can Do 

  • Familiarize yourself with the various ways in which your institutional graduation metrics are calculated and presented.
  • Share the story of your institution’s approaches to improving college completion with your Senators and Representative, local media, and with NAICU for inclusion in Building Blocks to 2020.

NAICU Contacts

  • For further information about federal policy related to completion, contact Jody Feder:
  • For further information about completion data, contact Jason Ramirez:
  • To include information about your institution on the Building Blocks to 2020 site, contact Galen Vandergriff: